Indonesia drags its feet on Asean haze treaty
the devastating Asian Financial Crisis. The timing meant countries in the region struggled to cope with this disaster. In 1998, Singapore’s thenminister for environment and health, Mr Yeo Cheow Tong, said: “A repeat of this disaster will surely aggravate the already bad regional economic situation.”
Forest and land fires in Indonesia were leading factors why Asean countries forged the haze agreement. During the ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, in April 1998, Asean members blamed Indonesia for its land-clearing activities.
Hence, the 1997-1998 fires prompted Asean countries to try to overcome the economic and health impact of the haze crisis together.
SLOW IMPLEMENTATION AND DISJOINTED ACTION
It took 11 years after the treaty came into force for Indonesia to ratify the agreement in 2014. But, two years in, Indonesia has yet to enact regulations at the national and local levels.
Article 11 of the haze agreement obliged state parties, among others, to “ensure that appropriate legislative, administrative and financial measures are taken to mobilise equipment, materials, human and financial resources required to respond to and mitigate the impact of land and/or forest fires and haze pollution arising from such fires”.
During a closed interview with an expert staff member of the Legisla-
Dio herdiawan tobing is a research associate at the asean studies Center, universitas gadjah Mada, in Yogyakarta. tion Committee at Indonesia’s House of Representatives (who requested anonymity), she admitted that the House still views additional regulations at the national and local level as unnecessary.
Lawmakers believe that national laws, such as the 2014 Law on Plantations and the 2009 Law on Environmental Protection and Management, were adequate, she said.
These laws do share the spirit of Asean’s zero-burning policy. The Asean haze treaty has a provision urging parties to prevent land-clearing using fire. The Indonesian laws mentioned above also prohibit land-clearing by burning.
But none of Indonesia’s national laws make special reference to haze or pollution resulting from slash-andburn activities.
Indonesia does not categorise the spread of haze from forest burning as a disaster. For Indonesia, haze is a result of forest burning, especially when it is man-made. Not categorising haze as a disaster prevents the country’s national and local disaster agencies from responding accordingly.
To implement the haze treaty, Indonesia could, for instance, legislate to expand the authority of the country’s Disaster Management Agency and local disaster management agencies at the provincial level to carry out activities to prevent and mitigate any transboundary haze crisis.
Currently, their mandate is limited to emergency preparedness. The local disaster-relief fund can be used only when the haze reaches “emergency standby” status. As a result, national and local disaster agencies cannot prevent and mitigate haze. They can only start work once there are fires and haze.
Within the Indonesian government, problems of commitment and coordination among agencies at the central and local level persist.
The Ministry of Environment and Forestry — the government body responsible for tackling threats to the environment — does not seem interested in enforcing the Asean haze agreement. It is more focused on “project-based” action, such as distributing firefighting pumps to the community.
It was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in charge of international agreements, that actively supported Indonesia’s ratification of the haze treaty.
As a consequence of the discord between the two ministries, two years into Indonesia’s ratification of the agreement, local administrations are still not aware of it.
If Indonesia maintains its noncompliant behaviour, the regional community will continue to blame it for South-east Asia’s haze problems. Previously, Indonesia’s non-ratification delayed the establishment of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Haze.
Asean has set a goal of a haze-free region by 2020. It may not achieve that goal if Indonesia does not catch up.
As a more general and long-term effect, Indonesia will lose its “natural leadership” position in Asean, as one of the bloc’s founders and the largest economy in South-east Asia.
It is important to have a united approach between different government agencies for Indonesia to comply with the agreement.
Local administrations throughout Indonesia should be informed about the policy. It is the only way can we ensure policies are synchronised and implemented effectively at national and local levels. THE CONVERSATION
In Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua in Indonesia, slash-and-burn methods are still commonly used to clear land for the expansion of oil-palm plantations. Palm oil is Indonesia’s top export.